National Security Priorities for the 21st Century

Report Homeland Security

National Security Priorities for the 21st Century

September 26, 2001 17 min read
The Honorable Robert Livingston
Senior Policy Analyst

Let me begin with a request for a moment of prayerful silence on behalf of the thousands of victims of the events of September 11: people who died, were burned, or maimed; people who left children, wives, husbands, parents, sisters and brothers, friends and relatives--without explanation or understanding, without time to say "Goodbye"--all for no reason other than the fact that fanatical, deranged people in another part of the world presumed that their sordid view of the world was justification to snuff out the lives of thousands of innocent men, women, and children in America.

Please take a moment with me to pay tribute to those innocent souls and to ask God's blessing on them--and on us for the work we must do to insure that others do not follow in their path.

* * *

Obviously, my presentation today is different from what it might have been two weeks ago. I was asked to speak on defense, but the meaning of "defense" is different today. I am different. We are different. The whole nation, even the world, is different, all because of these horrific acts perpetrated against Americans, against the world and what I would characterize as democracy--indeed, against civilization itself.

An Effective Defense for America
Future indefensible, evil, and heinous acts such as these must be prevented and defended against, and the only way we can reasonably defend against them is to eliminate their perpetrators. That entails a defense not as we know it, but one far better--more comprehensive, more thorough, more intrusive and more painstaking--than what we have today. And it entails an offensive capability that is equal to anything we've mobilized in the past against known enemies, but far more lethal and effective in its ability to search out and target and destroy the hidden and cowardly enemies who blend in among innocent pawns and shills in order to cover their murderous tracks.

To adequately mobilize either our defense or offense, we must reassess and overhaul our military and intelligence resources, wisely and selectively, without throwing money indiscriminately at the problem but also without blind adherence to bureaucratic budgetary rules that hamstring our ability to mobilize.

This means weeding out the lethargic, ineffective institutions that gather around our fighting forces, like plaque on the unbrushed tooth, to gum and rot and decay the internal machinery of our eager and effective personnel. It means sharpening our lines of responsibility and ceasing inter-agency competition in intelligence, law enforcement, and national defense. It means supporting Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in trimming unneeded forces and reapplying their resources to those units which remain, in order to avoid spreading the remaining forces too thin or maintaining numerous less effective forces.

Likewise, it means closing bases that remain open solely for political reasons, rather than military ones. It means that we must be more conscious of not only our defense budget, but also our entire federal budget, which for too long has neglected the needs--both personnel and structural--of our military.

Defense Spending vs. Mandatory Programs
We won the Cold War. We destroyed Saddam Hussein's army in Iraq. And then we sat back.

Over the past nine years, we deployed our troops all over the globe but failed to adequately support their ability to respond to truly serious threats to our own national security, let alone to adequately support their quality of life. It is no wonder that we have fallen behind, when we look at the decline in our overall defense budget compared to the defense budget 40 years ago.

Defense spending has dwindled from half of our entire federal budget in 1962, to less than one-sixth of our budget today. 1962 was the middle of Jack Kennedy's heyday. The Cold War was up and running, and we spent one-half of every dollar on defense. Today, we are spending less on defense as a percentage of our GDP--3 percent--than we have since the beginning of the Great Depression.

I know that the President and the Congress have agreed to increase spending by some $40 billion in reaction to last week's holocaust, and I applaud their efforts, but much of that will be dedicated to simply rebuilding what was lost last week. They need to do much more than that if we are to succeed in standing up to the threats of the future.

We really need a budget overhaul, and our long-term spending trend "from guns to butter" needs a serious reexamination. We saw this with clarity last week.

We also saw that government is not the enemy, and that a civilized society needs conscientious, effective government. Those policemen, firemen, and emergency workers in New York and Washington were heroes; many of them gave their own lives to aid their neighbors. Certainly, government is critical to our very survival.

But while spending for some programs must inevitably rise, Congress should take the initiative and have the discipline to cut and repeal outdated, wasteful government programs. Today, as shown in the charts, mandatory spending, which is not reevaluated annually--and often not for 10 or 15 years or more at a time--is eclipsing the rest of the budget.

Mandatory spending, which creates automatic draws on our treasury, has grown from one-third of our budget in 1962 to over two-thirds today. Surely, some of this increase is due to programs of the social safety net such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but political pressures have also caused the transfer of well over a hundred other programs (such as spending for the Everglades and agricultural subsidies) to the mandatory category.

Each entitlement and mandatory program should be evaluated and, when possible, moved to the discretionary side of the budget. This is absolutely critical to allow budgeters and appropriators to use discretion in funding programs that otherwise would be locked into place without adequate oversight. This is necessary with regard to the domestic as well as the defense budget.

Full Participation of Congress
Congress needs to abandon such budgetary gimmicks as arbitrary caps, lock boxes, and similar quick fixes and make government live within its means by asserting discretion and judgment over the federal budget. We actually did this in the late 1990s when, over the objections of President Bill Clinton, we eliminated over 300 unnecessary programs.

Budget-trimming Members ought to have even more success now that President George W. Bush is at the helm. But to get there, they need to provide oversight, and that means that Congress must show up for work on a five-day schedule, rather than the current two-day one. We did show up five days a week 20 years ago, but we slipped away from a normal workweek as politics became more important than substance and as Members began leaving their families in their home states.

Today, in most weeks, Congress convenes on Tuesday night and leaves on Thursday afternoon for long weekends with their families in their congressional districts. That leaves only Wednesdays, and possibly Thursday mornings, for any hearings since Members aren't even in Washington at any other time. Furthermore, because they are assigned to multiple committees and subcommittees, few, if any, Members other than the chairman and ranking member are present at a typical hearing on Capitol Hill.

That's unworkable, and it has to be changed now. Members should be available for hearings throughout the workweek. They should provide oversight by holding regular hearings to determine what works and what doesn't and which functions of government are worthwhile and which aren't. They should then exercise their judgment to terminate those functions that are not worthwhile and to pare down or eliminate those expenditures that are wasteful, redundant, unnecessary, or counterproductive.

Promoting a Vibrant Economy
Now, I don't want any of my remarks to imply opposition to the tax cut of last spring. On the contrary, I applaud the President and the Congress for the tax cut. I only wish that it had been bigger and more front-end-loaded, since a reduced supply of money compels the Congress to do that which they were elected to do--make discretionary judgments between that which is effective and that which is not.

With hundreds, maybe thousands, of duplicative, redundant, and wasteful programs in government, there is plenty of room in the nearly $2 trillion budget to cut inefficiency and allow for the truly necessary expenditures. There is no reason whatsoever why the American people--being taxed at the highest level in peacetime history--should not enjoy some tax relief to reapply their own money to productive purposes and to reenergize commerce at a time when we are threatened by recession from a declining stock market as well as by actions from enemies abroad.

There is a desperate need to reduce the capital gains tax. Even with the tax cuts and the slower economy, we are still currently generating the second largest surplus in any government budget in the history of the world. A $160 billion surplus means that our needs--be they for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or defense--are met and will be met for the foreseeable future, and that money is still left over, even after the tax cuts.

Does that mean we needn't worry about the future with respect to those programs? Of course not. Some of those programs demand an overhaul, or they will be incapable of meeting the needs of our children. But for today, people who are eligible for entitlements and those most in need will have their needs met.

Undoubtedly, the only guarantee future generations have that their needs will be met is the strength of the American economy. The ultimate "lock box" is the American economy, so we must exert every tool at our disposal to protect and nourish it. If our economy collapses, we are all in deep trouble, and the programs we regard as sacrosanct will not be guaranteed.

So we must protect our economy, and the only way to do that is to encourage and cultivate the private sector, which is the only real producer of wealth in this world. There is no better way to do that than by reduction of taxes and interest rates; we are already doing both this year, and we could do more.\

Honing Our Defensive and Offensive Forces
We know we must re-prioritize, that we must use our resources more rationally and efficiently, and that we must upgrade and hone our defensive and offensive forces. How? First of all, by increasing our procurement of weaponry, ships, planes, and land vehicles--to fight the next war, not the last.

  • In the past 10 years, we have gone through our defense assets with astonishing rapidity.

  • U.S. forces have been deployed some 34 times in the past 8 years, versus only 10 times in the preceding 40 years of the Cold War.

  • Our bomber force (B-52s, B-1s, and B-2s) is severely limited. The B-52s will be roughly 90 years old by the time the next bomber is produced under today's production schedules. The B-1s are of modest value, and we only have 21 B-2s--and of those, only 16 are operational.

  • Our existing fleet of seagoing vessels has an average age of 27 years and an expected service life of only 35 years. We are currently replacing them at the rate of only 6.5 ships per year, though we need to be producing at least 8.7 ships per year to maintain a 300-ship Navy--and even that would not really be enough, if we are to maintain dominance.

  • Our active duty force structure has been cut by 700,000 people since 1985, and when adjusted for inflation, our defense budget has fallen by $150 billion.

  • Thirty-eight percent of our Army, 40 percent of our Air Force, and 35 percent of our Naval personnel have been cut, yet we still provide substandard housing for the troops that remain.

  • Moreover, the maintenance and operations of our equipment has been curtailed for budgetary reasons, and with the increased detailing of personnel to peacekeeping and police details around the world, our retention of experienced troops is severely threatened.

Yet sheer numbers of troops is not the central issue. Quality of life, training, planning, and provision of effective and well-maintained war-fighting paraphernalia is. Thus, it is absolutely imperative that Congress provides Secretary Rumsfeld with the money and the latitude to make institutional changes so that our soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen are capable of meeting the threats of the 21st century.

Preparing for Threats of the 21st Century
The evil and cowardly people who attacked us last week are indicative of the changing world in which we are threatened. Surely, we also face technologically modern states led by tyrants and dictators as well. We have come to realize that not everyone likes us, and those current or future enemies--be they individuals or leaders of countries--may strike out at us at any time, in any way possible: with knives to overpower our civilian airlines, with weapons of mass destruction in briefcases or baggage, or by launching missiles at us if they can acquire them.

This means we must safeguard our planes, our trains, all our modes of transportation, and the people who run them. We must protect our monuments, our buildings, our landmarks, our water and food supplies, and--above all--our people and our armed forces, wherever they are deployed.

Deploying Missile Defense
Inherent in this task is the necessity of deploying a missile defense immediately--without further delay. The Clinton Administration studied the issue to death, but it would never use the word "deploy." We must use the word, and we must activate it.

Opponents who deride what they cynically call "Star Wars" have said that the systems would not work. Our tests have proven that they do. Critics say that we cannot afford it. In fact, we cannot afford to neglect it or fail to deploy it. Opponents say that it would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but the only signatories to that treaty were the United States and the Soviet Union, and there is no more Soviet Union. Thus, in effect, it's a treaty with ourselves, and, of course, we can renounce and withdraw from a treaty with ourselves--especially since the very wording in that treaty permits a party to withdraw after giving six months notice to other signatories.

Critics say that such action would offend China or North Korea. It should be kept in mind that not only are those two countries not signatories and, hence, not bound by the treaty, but also that neither has abided by the terms of a single nuclear non-proliferation treaty to which it was a signatory in the last 50 years. In short, the opponents of an effective missile defense system for the American people have run out of arguments.

We need not choose between defending against terrestrial terror and air- or space-borne terror: We must defend against both. We lost over 5,000 people last week. Would those who rail against "Star Wars" risk the possibility of losing 5 million people next year? That's what is at stake if we do not protect ourselves against the Osama bin Ladens, the Saddam Husseins, the Muammar Qadhafis, and the Kim Jong-Ils.

These people are a threat to us, and they and others could now have, or may soon have, missiles and/or weapons of mass destruction. How do we explain to our children that we knew it was possible that they might use them, but we just didn't think they would do it? This is not a question for a later time: It's a question that we must ask now, given what happened last week.

Employing Our Intelligence Resources 
Clearly, our intelligence, military, and political apparatuses were insufficient to prevent the attacks of last week. We failed our children; we failed our people; and we failed our country. We knew when Saddam Hussein threatened us that he meant it. We knew that when Muammar Qadhafi said that if he had had missiles at his disposal, he would have dropped a bomb on New York he meant it. We are fairly certain that he was responsible for the destruction of Pan Am flight 103.

We have repeatedly heard the North Koreans and even the Chinese threaten us or our friends and allies such as Taiwan with missiles, and we have most certainly heard Osama bin Laden's threats and witnessed the destruction of the Khobar Towers in Daharan, our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Africa, and the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen. We should have known that sooner or later we would find the evil of terrorism not just in the Middle East, or in Europe, or Africa, but on our own soil.

It has now arrived. We were warned, but we were not ready. What do we tell our children? I hope we tell them that, while we can never be absolutely safe, we will exert every possible effort to avoid such catastrophes in the future.

President Bush was right in declaring war on the perpetrators. He was right in asserting, "We will make no distinction between those who committed these acts and those who harbor them." But he should also act to repeal the executive orders that prevent us from using criminals to catch worse criminals. He should repeal the order that prevents an American President from targeting an individual enemy. And he should heed the suggestion of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who recommended combining the Border Patrol, the Immigration Service, the Coast Guard, Customs, and the Agriculture Inspectors under the umbrella of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to guard our borders and coastlines against hostile foreign incursion.

Taking a Fresh Look at Our Investigative Forces
Finally, the President should take a fresh look at our investigative forces deployed overseas to reduce inter-agency rivalries and the redundancies.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launched an effort in the 1990s to put agents all over the world--ostensibly to prevent terrorism and drugs from coming to the shores of the United States. Obviously, they have failed. I believed then, and so testified when I was in Congress, that this was a misbegotten effort.

The FBI is a great institution that has done a tremendous amount of good for the American people; but with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Office of State Department Security, the State Department itself, and all the Consular Corps from all the other departments scattered all over the globe, the addition of the FBI to stations around the world did little, if anything, for our intelligence apparatus and only provided another conflicting overlap of bureaucracy to deal with people who have little knowledge or care whether they were talking to the FBI, the CIA, or one of the other U.S. alphabet-soup agencies to provide sensitive information. The likelihood of leaks and miscommunication was enhanced, and our security was subject to endangerment by cooperating informants, as evidenced by the revelation of super counterspy and traitor Robert Hanssen.

When the USS Cole was struck, the FBI sent hundreds of agents over to Yemen, many of whom couldn't speak the local language, and on receipt of further terrorist threats, they were herded into a compound where they gathered intelligence from each other and posed a target for more terrorists. They were of little help to the DIA after our troops were hit by a car bomb in Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and they were unable to prevent or apprehend those responsible for the bombing of our embassies in Africa. In short, FBI agents are, at best, redundant and unnecessary to the worldwide investigations by other agencies and, at worst, are simply in the way.

We need experienced linguists and spies abroad. The other agencies are capable of providing that. The FBI, originally intended as our domestic intelligence service, provides little or no advantage in our efforts abroad. Instead, they have diluted their own effectiveness. They have seriously failed to maintain their laboratories and failed to provide quality investigations and/or follow through in the bombing cases of Atlanta and Oklahoma. They were unable to prevent the dissemination of private files to political hacks in the White House, and they could not prevent traitorous moles from invading the most vital of departments--such as their own counterintelligence section, in which they suffered a Soviet mole for as long as 25 years who was not given a single lie detector test in the last 15 years.

Overhauling the Intelligence Agencies
The FBI should be brought back to the United States and mandated to become, once again, the premier domestic investigative and counterintelligence body they once were. The CIA and DIA should be overhauled as intelligence agencies and provided with the resources and the license to do their jobs without political interference. State Department Security should be entrusted with the role in which they were once engaged as the chief law enforcement agency abroad--working in tandem with the DEA, which should enforce our drug laws in coordinated action around the world. Only then will we again have clear lines of responsibility.

Furthermore, those leaders who are unable to fulfill their responsibilities should be summarily sacked. We have the technical ability to know everything about anything that moves in any place on Earth. Our limitations are self-imposed--by budget restrictions, organizational infighting, and a lack of initiative to deal with difficult legal issues so that we can enhance our capabilities while preserving our way of life.

But we have the power to overcome all of these obstacles, and God willing, we shall. This is the very least we owe to our children and ourselves.

We have suffered greatly--as a nation, as a people, and as individuals and families--in the last week. Let us not despair and hide from the declaration of war that has been thrust upon us. Let us accept our lot and heed the call. Let us upgrade our defense and our intelligence networks and seek out the enemy and annihilate him. He is evil incarnate, and we should show no mercy.

But we must take care not to hurt innocent people unnecessarily, lest we become what we fight. We must upgrade our resources, target our enemy, and defeat him so that our children's children will once again live in a safe and peaceful world.

The Honorable Robert L. Livingston is chairman of the Livingston Group, L.L.C., in Washington, D.C. From 1977 until 1999, he represented the First District of Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving as a member (and, from 1995 until 1998, as chairman) of the Committee on Appropriations and member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.


The Honorable Robert Livingston

Senior Policy Analyst